CAPE TOWN, South Africa — According to UNAIDS, Sub-Saharan Africa continues to be the country most affected by HIV/AIDS. Human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), also called acquired immunodeficiency syndrome, is a virus that attacks the immune system, making a person more vulnerable to fevers and diseases. HIV/AIDS is typically transmitted through sexual contact or infected blood. UNAIDS reports that about 64% of people worldwide living with HIV come from Sub-Saharan Africa. Moreover, women and girls, particularly aged 15 to 24, account for about 59% of all HIV infections in the region. Since females are twice as likely to have HIV than males in underdeveloped countries, mother-to-child transmission rates are high, with about 80% of children in Sub-Saharan Africa living with HIV. To combat this crisis, mothers2mothers, a nonprofit organization based in South Africa, has taken efforts to reduce the rate of HIV and AIDS among women, children and adolescents to improve the health of communities across Africa.
Why HIV/AIDS Disproportionally Affects Women in Africa
According to Avert, cultural, social, and economic barriers account for increased HIV rates among women. The first barrier that women face is a lack of access to healthcare services. Frequently, inadequate HIV and sexual reproductive healthcare aid mean that women cannot reduce their HIV infection effectively. In places where SRH aid does exist, it is typically reserved for married women with children and does not provide youth-friendly services to adolescent girls. Furthermore, because of the negative stigma attached to HIV/AIDS, adolescent girls are often afraid to ask for help.
Another barrier that women face is a lack of education on preventing getting a sexually transmitted disease. Research indicates that women with more education tend to have lower rates of HIV/AIDS. However, Avert reports that in the least developed countries, such as Sub-Saharan Africa, about 60% of girls do not attend secondary school. As a result, girls’ lack of access to education and resources make girls and women more vulnerable to HIV.
The third barrier women commonly face in Sub-Saharan Africa is gender-based and domestic violence. Women who have been physically, emotionally or mentally abused by their partner are more likely to experience psychological health issues, such as drug overuse and sexual misconduct, which increases their chances of getting HIV. Additionally, experiencing violence may cause women to fear opening up about their condition and taking medication.
The last barrier that most women in Africa face is poverty. Women who live in impoverished conditions must rely on early marriage and relationships that make them more susceptible to HIV. These women often have little to no access to HIV information and resources.
The Mentor Mother Model of mothers2mothers
The nonprofit mothers2mothers delivers life-changing services to women, children and adolescents across 10 Sub-Saharan African countries to reduce HIV/AIDS. These services are based on the nonprofit’s mentor mother model, a peer-based system where services are delivered by local women who have experienced HIV/AIDS themselves and are trained by the organization to serve as community healthcare workers. Services provided to the three age groups vary.
For women aged 15 to 49, the three main services include:
- Prevention of mother-to-child HIV transmissions: Healthcare workers help aid women undergo HIV treatment while pregnant or breastfeeding. They also help mothers stay on treatment for life and educate HIV-negative women on how to prevent infections.
- Strengthening households’ economic stability: mothers2mothers works toward improving women and families’ financial well-being by increasing their financial literacy and creating job opportunities.
- Improving reproductive, maternal, newborn, child and adolescent health: Healthcare workers help HIV-positive and negative mothers with childbirth and postnatal care. They also provide sexual reproductive healthcare services, including HIV, tuberculosis and malaria testing.
For children aged 0 to 9, the four main services include:
- Early childhood development: Healthcare workers help provide support to mothers by providing them with information on nutrition, safety, protection and health for their children. Workers also help advocate for children with disabilities.
- Pediatric care and support: Workers help identify at-risk children for HIV and test families for infection.
- Orphans and other vulnerable children: Workers provide sexual reproductive healthcare services to orphans and vulnerable children, including HIV prevention and treatment.
- Reproductive, maternal, newborn and child health: Workers help strengthen family health by linking families with nearby health centers that provide information and resources on nutrition and immunization.
For adolescents aged 10 to 24, the three main services are:
- Prevention of mother-to-child transmission of HIV: Workers help adolescent girls living with HIV ensure that they do not transmit the infection to their children.
- Sexual and reproductive health services: mothers2mothers educates young adults on HIV testing and how to avoid unplanned pregnancies.
- Orphans and vulnerable children and adolescents: Workers help support orphans living with HIV by giving them antiretroviral treatment.
The Impact of mothers2mothers
Since its beginnings in 2001, the organization has created more than 11,000 jobs for women and has reached more than 11 million women and children in Sub-Saharan Africa. According to the latest quarterly impact report, as of March 31, 2020, mothers2mothers has worked towards achieving the U.N.’s 90-90-90 target. This framework was put into place by the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS in 2014 to diagnose 90% of all HIV people, provide antiretroviral therapy to 90% of those patients and achieving viral suppression of the 90% receiving the treatment by 2020.
For the first target, mothers2mothers tested about 99% of pregnant women and about 96% of children. However, the percentage was about 73% for the number of infants tested and results received. For the second target, mothers2mothers initiated 75% of pregnant women on antiretroviral treatment, and from that group, about 85% of women came back for refills. For the third target, the number of adherence assessments given was about 97%.
In addition to providing services to mothers and children, mothers2mothers also partners with other organizations, small businesses, and NGO’s to further their mission of reducing HIV/AIDS across Africa.